Gas Head Tells All

Q: Tell me, Gas Head, do you cry?

A: If you mean do I produce saline tears, then no. I weep a concentrated solution of gasoline and mucus that’s closer to Napalm, so I’ve learned to keep it all in…I don’t want to accidentally bomb a village. I’ll never go on Oprah, let’s say that much. [Pause.] That’s a strange first question.

Q: How old were you when you learned to keep your emotions in check?

A: From the beginning. As soon as I understood language. I think I knew No-no-no-please-god before ma-ma. My parents had a tough time of it when I was a baby. The concrete garage behind our house was converted into a nursery and they added sprinklers and hoses and all that, and they still had the fire department out all the time. They knew all the firemen’s names. Luckily all I made were these little baby tears or I might’ve torched the whole neighborhood.

Q: Hm.

A: So I learned to control myself early on. Sadness, anger, shame…I flare up when I get upset. Full-on rage, forget it. I blaze. I was on serotonin reuptake inhibitors before I reached preschool. I have to keep it tamped down, or there’ll be trouble. Obviously talk radio is out for me. Election years, I don’t even turn on the TV.

Q: And the last time you cried?

A: [Long pause.]

Q: Are you afraid to say?

A: There are people out there who want to blame me for things that aren’t my fault. House fires, brush fires. I must have one of those guilty-looking faces. [Laughs, flares up.] I won’t lie and say it’s never happened, that I’ve never once cried in my thirty-some years. That wouldn’t be human. But it’s infrequent, I can assure you, and always safely contained.

Q: So you think of yourself as human?

A: What in the hell kind of question is that?

Q: Well, I—

A: Do you have any idea how offensive that is? Wow.

Q: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—

A: Have you ever asked anyone else in an interview if they were human?

Q: Gary Busey.

A: No. Not funny.

Q: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean offense. But at the same time—

A: [Dimming.] No, no. It’s okay. I guess I understand why you’d ask. It’s just…you should be aware of how a question like that would sound to someone like me.

Q: …someone like you…?

A: Okay, so there’s no one like me. How it sounds to me.

Q: Let’s shift gears. You’ve said that…

A: No, wait. I want to answer the question. First, let me ask you, what’s it mean to be human?

Q: I’m not sure I’m qualified to say.

A: I was born. I suffer. I’m self-aware. I have the illusion of free will. One day I’ll die.

Q: Yes, but does—

A: I pay the cable bill. My back hurts. I wish I drove a better car.

Q: But you’ve made some good money over the years, haven’t you? You had a number of endorsements.

A: Sure. Kingsford, that was the big one. The Match-Lite charcoal people.

Q: And wasn’t that profitable?

A: That money’s gone. I burned right through it.

Q: Ahem.

A: Back in the Eighties, when Michael Jackson caught his head on fire shooting that Pepsi commercial, remember that? I did the Coke version and moonwalked around screaming, or, not moonwalked, but I walked backwards and screamed and grabbed myself. That was the first, I think, the first commercial endorsement. It won some awards, but it was kind of mean-spirited, now that I look back.

Q: Coke is a big deal.

A: But see, all that money went to my parents. I was still a kid back then.

Q: And they mishandled the funds?

A: Enough has been written about that. I don’t want to dredge that back up.

Q: Are you still in touch with them?

A: I understand it was hard having me. I wasn’t what they expected or wanted. You want your son to grow up to be a pilot, not a pilot light. That’s my little joke. They’re just, they were simple folk, and they didn’t expect what they got when they had me, but then they saw an opportunity to make something of their lives and get out of this town and they did it. But I don’t blame them for anything. I have no ill feelings.

Q: So you’re not in touch with them?

A: Through my lawyer.

Q: They live out west now, is that right?

A: Yes.

Q: In L.A.?

A: Yes, I think that’s right.

Q: So you had nothing to do with the Gas Head animated series a few years back?

A: Nothing at all. See, they were using my likeness without my permission.

Q: Your parents were.

A: Right, and…

Q: The presiding judge ruled your trademark-infringement lawsuit without merit.

A: Well, see, they called the main character Barry instead of Gas Head, and they changed some of the details around, such as the fact that Barry is happy and gets along with his parents. And the judge didn’t really hear us out. He had it in for me from the beginning. Plus, my lawyer is a colossal piece of shit.

Q: Your parents countersued for defamation and emotional distress, and they won that.

A: [Long pause.] They did.

Q: In 2003, you were arrested for producing methamphetamines.

A: Trumped-up charge. They didn’t have a case.

Q: So it was some kind of misunderstanding…?

A: My house blew up, and I live in Muncie, Indiana, and if you live in Muncie and your house blows up, then you’re probably cooking methamphetamine.

Q: And your house blew up because…?

A: Because my head is a giant ball of gas that’s on fire.

Q: Here’s something I don’t understand: How do you have eyes and teeth? Why don’t they burn?

A: That’s a dumb question. Obviously I don’t have a clue why my eyeballs don’t burn. They should pop like a campfire log. It’s like asking me why my head is on fire. I’d love to know that myself. If I could figure out who to ask, or better yet who’s responsible, believe me, there’d be words.

Q: Do you mean God?

A: [silence]

Q: Can you go swimming?

A: Oh, sure.

Q: Do you date?

A: Here and there. I do well in chat rooms. Sometimes I get a first date out of that. The second date, that’s the question mark.

Q: Have you ever been in love?

A: Yes.

Q: Was the feeling returned?

A: Oh yes.

Q: And it was serious?

A: It was the most important time of my life.

Q: So what happened?

A: You mean, why did it end?

Q: Yes.

A: Why we broke up?

Q: Yes.

A: I guess we just grew apart.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A: I just finished my first album, available on my website, I take PayPal and personal check. If you only have cash, we can probably still work something out.

Q: Okay–

A: I recorded it on my own label, GH Records, so I could maintain artistic control. It’s like the essence of me on the album, for people who want to know who the real Gas Head is. It’s got some rockers on it, plus a few ballads. I co-wrote one of the songs with Mark McGrath, from Sugar Ray.

Q: Anything else?

A: I’m still looking for that special lady I can spend my life with. Maybe if someone reads this and wants to be in touch, we could go out to dinner. Or you could come to my house, if that would be better for you. We could listen to the album.

Q: Alright–

A: If you sent me an email last week trying to order the album, the server went down and I lost everything. You’ll have to log on again. I’m sorry. Oh, and there are t-shirts for sale on my website. Please buy from me, not from those other places on the web. ‘Cause I won’t see a dime from them. Thank you.

Q: Anything else?

A: I don’t even know why we have these emotions, what good they are, if all they do…they hurt you and they hurt others, and then you just spend your whole life…it’s like, you have to find a way to numb them, to fight them down, just to get by.

Q: Anything else?

A: It’s hard to put into words. I don’t always understand what I feel. I guess I’m just looking for a connection, you know? A feeling like I’m not so alone.

Q: Anything else?

A: Like right now, for instance, I’m not even sure you’re listening to me.

Q: Anything else?

A: I’ll tell you this—there are times when I really want to cry. Just throw my head back and let go, even if I bring the whole goddamn world down with me.


Joseph Bates Joseph Bates

Joseph Bates' fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such journals as New Ohio Review, Identity Theory, South Carolina Review, The Cincinnati Review, and Shenandoah. He is the author of The Nighttime Novelist, published in 2010 by Writer's Digest Books, and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

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